The history of Christianity is notoriously lacking in its recognition of female leaders as well as in acknowledgment of the influence that they may have had upon other well-known figures in the development of the faith. By intentionally seeking out these underrepresented figures, we can see that not only were they present but they contributed in major ways despite social constraints.
Macrina was born in 327 to a wealthy family living in Turkey. She was named after her grandmother, who had studied theology and been persecuted in the third-century. Macrina was the oldest of 10 siblings and responsible for educating her younger brothers and sisters. She was arranged to be married but he died before the wedding, at which point Macrina dedicated herself to assisting her mother before entering the monastic life.
Convincing her mother to relinquish her estate among her siblings after the death of her husband, the two women began a convent consisting of freed slaves. Their religious devotion would leave a greater impact than they could have imagined.
One of her younger brothers, Basil, returned home after completing his education. Upon seeing the monastic faith of Macrina, he was convicted to enter a religious order as well. She had a similar affect on her brother, Gregory. Both of these men would refer to Macrina as their “teacher” in reference to their childhood as well as inspiration for religious devotion.
Her brothers are remembered in history as St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa. These two bishops joined Gregory of Nazianzus to form a group (later) called the Cappadocian Fathers. With their educated background, they debated philosophers within the culture clash between the newly legalized Christianity and the intellectual heritage of the Roman Empire. They were instrumental in forming the basis for Trinity-theology and supporting the creation of the Nicene Creed in 325 and defense of the doctrines from other fourth-century theologians.
The influence of the Cappadocian Fathers, especially the Nicene Creed, set a direction for the church as it spread through Europe. It would form the basis for dogmatic theology and lay the foundation for centuries of teaching, formation, and devotion. Equally significant is the emphasis placed upon the monastic life of full devotion. These elements, so integral to the history of the church, could have been immensely different if not for the faith and influence of one woman strong enough to teach and brothers humble enough to listen.
Sources: Barrois, Georges, trans. The Fathers Speak. St. Vladimir’s Press, NY. 1986.
Gregory of Nyssa. The Life of St. Macrina. Available online by the Intratext Library.
Meredith, Anthony. The Cappadocians. St. Vladimir’s Press, NY. 1995.
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